Plot Summary/Details

The central theme to this one is a variation of the old story idea of a lone lawman transporting a prisoner to trial/justice. Invariably, the lawman encounters some sort of crisis that makes the task dangerous, harrowing, and other things decidedly non-routine.

In this particular story, the protagonist is flying through the sky with his prisoner in his arms. Not sure if the prisoner has already been convicted, and is being taken to prison, or if he's merely going to trial. In either case, the jetpack begins to malfunction. The protagonist makes an emergency landing on the ground of the planet.

Once on the ground, the prisoner reveals that he sabotaged the lawman's jetpack. Specifically, I think he put metal shavings or grit into the motor, which gradually destroyed the device. When asked by the protagonist why he did such a thing, the prisoner states that he wasn't going to be taken in, and he wanted the satisfaction of knowing the lawman would die, too.

On this particular planet, there is a smallish, but deadly creature that inhabits the wilds. It is a superb tracker, is quite powerful and well-armed, and its hide is such that it is almost impossible to kill, even with ray guns. Being nocturnal, the protagonist and his prisoner aren't in immediate danger, but once the sun sets, the prisoner is sure they are both doomed.

The protagonist-lawman, for his part, is determined not to die, and also to deliver the bad guy to justice. I believe he finds a narrow cave in which to hole up. I believe he also does his best to block up the entrance with rocks and other debris. When night falls, the tension builds, and eventually one of these dreaded creatures catches their scent and attacks.

I don't remember too many details about the fight. I do recall that the creature begins digging through the debris to get to them with a very distinctive sound. The protagonist shoots the creature with his beamer/ray gun, but the creature is not immediately slain. The protagonist is wounded in the leg with the creature's rasp-like tongue, which can pierce solid rock. The protagonist shoots the creature at least one more time, with the nemesis finally succumbing to the beam. The lawman (as common with the trope) has prevailed against great odds.

I believe the story closes with the protagonist having repaired his jetpack and bound his wounds, and telling his prisoner that it was time to go (sun was up), and that he was going to face justice after all.

Timeframe of Publication

Not really sure, but old. It read like something from the 50's or maybe early 60s at latest. I wouldn't be surprised if it was older than that, however.

  • 1
    This sounds a lot like the second story in "The War Against The Rull" by A. E. Van Vogt. I can't find my copy right now or I would give a detailed answer. The hero (Jamieson) plans to reveal that one of the dominant species on Carson's World (the Ezwal) is intelligent and telepathic. One of the colonists lures him into a trap where they should both be killed by a blood-sucking gryb that scents salt in blood (I think). Jamieson forces them both into a cave/crevice and kills the attacking creature by making it lick a knife so that it starts consuming its own blood until it dies. Published 1959. Apr 10 '17 at 10:41
  • @RoboticCat: The details you've mentioned - especially the part about the creature licking the knife - sound familiar. It may be that I have either mis-remembered the story a bit, or I am mixing two or more stories together in my question.
    – Helbent IV
    Apr 12 '17 at 3:20

I cannot find a copy of the novel the War Against the Rull, that Robotic Cat suggests in a comment, but I've managed to find a copy of the short story Repetition aka The Gryb, on which the relevant section of TWAtR is based, so I'll give a few details in case it helps. (The story, as originally published in the April 1940 Astounding, is available at the Internet Archive.)

The protagonist is a diplomat, not a lawman, called Thomas (I don't think we ever learn his surname). It is set on Europa and Thomas is being given a jet pack tour of Europa by a guide called Ray Bartlett i.e. they are flying around Europa each with their own jetpack. Bartlett has sabotaged Thomas' jetpack by putting lead grit in it as you describe, but Thomas realises something is wrong and manages to descend low enough that he is only knocked out by the crash instead of being killed:

(Bartlett speaking) "You're lucky to be alive. Obviously you shut off the motor just in time. It was being shorted by lead grit and burned your legs a little."

Bartlett has an attack of conscience and instead of abandoning Thomas lands with him:

(Bartlett speaking) "I didn't think I'd be squeamish with so much at stake," he confessed almost roughly, "but I am. I came back to kill you but I wouldn't even kill a dog without giving him a chance."

Bartlett has decided to join Thomas and make sure he doesn't escape:

(Bartlett speaking) "If your eyes are good you'll see a dark spot, almost invisible now, to the right of the Sun. I chained your suit to mine then gave mine power. They'll be falling into Jupiter in about three hundred hours from now."

Bartlett is confident that they'll both die because of a savage life form called a gryb:

"They can smell hman blood at an astounding distance; and blood for some chemical reason drives them mad with desire.Once they corner a human being it's all up. They tear down the largest trees, or dig into caves through solid rock. The only protection is an atomic gun and ours went up with our suits. We've only got my hunting knife."

Thomas and Bartlett hide in a cave where a gryb finds them and starts digging its way in (though not with its tongue). Thomas tricks the gryb into cutting its tongue on a knife Thomas has left driven into the rock, and:

"It smelled the blood on the knife," Thomas replied, "and began to lick it. The licking cut it's tongue into ribbons, which whipped it into a frenzy because with each lick more of its own blood would flow into its mouth. You say it loves blood. For the last half-hour it's been gorging itself on its own blood."

Once the gryb is dead Thomas fights and disarms Bartlett.

The background is a potential war between Earth-Venus and Mars. Europa is to be ceded to the Martians to try and avert the war. The Europans are not best pleased by this, which is why they encouraged Bartlett to try and kill Thomas.

According to Wikipedia the story was modified a bit to make it fit with the rest of the novel, but the basics of the story remain the same.

  • Please note that the ISFDB considers Repetition to be an "alternate title" of The Gryb, and that the listing under the "canonical title" has a more complete bibliography.
    – user14111
    Apr 13 '17 at 9:47
  • That has to be it. I suspect I've conflated elements of another story with this one in thinking the "Space Lawman" theme, but otherwise everything else clicks into place.
    – Helbent IV
    Apr 13 '17 at 16:47

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